The Future of Feeling | Kaitlin Ugolik Phillips

Summary of: The Future of Feeling: Building Empathy in a Tech-Obsessed World
By: Kaitlin Ugolik Phillips


Step into the engaging world of ‘The Future of Feeling: Building Empathy in a Tech-Obsessed World’, where author Kaitlin Ugolik Phillips navigates the complex landscape of empathy in the digital age. Delve into the nuances of cognitive and affective empathy, and explore the fascinating ways in which technology might be both hampering and fostering human connection. This journey will introduce you to the roles of virtual reality, social media, and innovative tools, as well as discussions on communication, compassion, and the future of empathy education. Prepare to immerse yourself in a thought-provoking experience that will leave you pondering the essence of empathy and its significance in our rapidly evolving, tech-infused world.

Understanding Empathy

Empathy can be intellectual or emotional. It is the ability to understand the mental state of others. People who are empathetic handle stress better and are more emotionally expressive. In contrast to compassion, empathy involves sharing the emotion with others. Screens and digital technology may affect empathy, although it is difficult to measure. Young people, growing up with digital technology, may develop better digital communication skills, but this can lead to a lack of substance in their communication. Empathy is crucial for human connection, and it sets us apart from animals and machines.

The Negative Effects of Screen Time

The rise in screen time is contributing to a decrease in empathy. College students in 2010 showed 40% less empathy than their peers in 1979. Sherry Turkle compares this to Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” Social media interactions lack nuance, body language, and context. Instead, they often become battlegrounds for insults and attacks. This is causing a decrease in genuine communication.

Empathy in Technology

As technology increasingly dominates our lives, experts explore the role of empathy in the digital world. A growing movement believes that the same technology that created empathy problems could solve them. The internet’s connectivity initially allowed for exhilarating conversations, but it also enabled harassment and abuse. The creators of the next generation of tech have a unique opportunity to change this trajectory, with empathy as the key. Teachers, futurists, engineers, social scientists, journalists, and others are working towards a more empathetic digital world.

The Gaming of Conversations

The rise of social media has transformed conversations into a game, where winning is more important than learning or listening. This has led to a surge in trolling, public shaming, and doxing, resulting in an increase in national polarization. People forget the humanity of the other participants, viewing them as adversaries, which rarely changes their minds. In response, tools like algorithms and apps are being developed to promote empathy and civil conversations. According to author Celeste Headlee, tech is not the problem; it is a tool. The internet has become a laboratory for a new form of communication where people’s behavior towards each other is constantly being studied. The Conversations with People Who Hate Me podcast is one such example where participants agree to ground rules like being willing to listen and be vulnerable, leading to mutual respect for each other’s point of view even when they disagree.

Empathy and Technology

Empathy education through apps and games is on the rise, but concerns about screen time and data misuse exist. Studies reveal that teaching empathy early on can make a difference in social behavior. While video games create a community, they don’t replace real-life social experiences. Apps like Homes by Tinybop offer a solution by enabling virtual exploration of global homes to accelerate children’s empathy learning curve.

VR as an Empathy Machine

Virtual reality (VR) and immersive technology can be used as a tool to increase empathy and awareness of social issues. Filmmaker Chris Milk’s VR film Clouds Over Sidra, which placed viewers in a Syrian refugee camp, inspired other advocates to create similar experiences to promote empathy. Studies found that VR increased empathy and created a greater probability of taking subsequent political or social action. However, users’ responses to VR experiences were influenced by their attachment to the subject or their predisposition to an empathetic reaction. VR can be an effective tool for building connection and arousing empathy, but it is essential to use it purposefully.

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